April 3, 2014
So it came that I had to get a new phone. By “had,” I do mean “had.” It was like when the Blackberry Tour decided it would no longer charge – if I wanted to continue using a phone, it was going to have to be something other than the Blackberry. In the case of the Blackberry replacement, the new phone was the HTC8X Windows Phone 8. A scant year later, it became necessary to change phones, again, as the HTC8X had begun such endearing behaviors as restarting at random, not sending texts, not receiving calls – you know…all the things that one looks for in a smartphone, these days. So…now I have a Samsung S4.
So enquiring minds want to know, do they? They want to know “what do you like better?” “which is a better phone?” “what made you choose Windows Phone in the first place and when you switched out the phone, why did you choose Android?” These are all valid questions, really. I’m going to answer them in a sort of shuffled order, though.
The Windows Phone Choice
I’ll be right up front – it was a “business” decision; a completely deluded, misguided business decision. I thought that because it came with Office 2013 built in as well as built-in Outlook support (which turns out to be a bit misleading), I would be able to work on documents and handle company email tasks with ease and aplomb. Lies. Damned lies. If you’ve never tried to deal with a 14-worksheet Excel workbook on your phone, you can die happy knowing that there are pieces of your soul that will never be pierced by unspeak evil. If you have … you know of what I speak.
Now, I liked the phone. It’s a decent enough phone and I do have some apps I’ll miss as they’re not available on the Android market. There aren’t many, but there a few, trust me. For example, the 627AM alarm app is excellent. I recommend it, highly. GuitarTools is another that I enjoy that I haven’t found on the ‘droid market. That said, I also enjoyed its fairly decent camera and pretty solid battery life. Oh, and it had Beats built in, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. I like the EQ boosting inherent to Beats a ton better than the overpriced, unwieldy and sonically suspect headphones of the same name.
The sim card slot sucks harder than blowing the door on a 747 at 30,000 feet. I had to shim the sim with a piece of business card. This actually worked for several months until the past month when it simply would barf “SIM Card Error. Emergency Calls Only” about 4 to 5 times a day. Exceptionally irritating and, apparently, just a dumb design decision by HTC. This alone was enough to push me towards switching phones. I never was a big fan of the random resets, either. I would enjoy not being able to send a text three or so times and then on the fourth attempt, the phone would just reset. It was the nail in the coffin as I sat in the Verizon store and it did it, twice, in the span of 5 minutes.
The Bluetooth implementation also seemed a bit sketchy. I went through no fewer than 7 headset/earpieces trying to find one that would pair and maintain connection for more than 3/4 of a phone call without cutting in and out and eventually dropping connection so that I would hear “Hello?!” coming from the phone in my pocket. Equally frustrating was the lack of device support. Case in point, my Logitech bluetooth keyboard that I use extensively with my Galaxy tablet, and now, my S4; it never paired properly with the 8X. For a phone that was purchased with productivity in mind, hammering out any form of work document on the touch-keyboard on the phone rather than a keyboard is…painful.
This is phone specific, but the lack of external storage got old. Of course, if any SD expansion slot was handled the same way as the SIM slot, this might not have been a bad thing…
The Beats implementation did tend to muddy up metal, especially with blizzardy double-bass work…it’s why I didn’t go with the headphones of the same name: Amon Amarth sounds just awful at volume.
When Switching Phones, Why Did I Choose Android?
The obvious choice when detracting against the 8X, if you want to stick with a Windows Phone is the Nokia, from what I hear. That said, I wouldn’t go Windows Phone again without corporate sponsorship and a custom OS-level developer living in my basement. Why? If you haven’t figured out from the previous section, then I’ll address why I went with Android.
First and foremost, it’s a much more stable OS. I have had the S4 for close to two weeks, now and haven’t had a hiccup stemming from OS weirdness. As I still have the phone, by way of making my point for me, the last three times I’ve trotted out the 8X to either sync contacts (manually, of course, since there’s no REAL support in that regard…), siphon off music or use one of the apps I like that have no counterpart, the phone has rebooted itself in the middle of said operation. Seriously.
Next, I prefer the Google Store. I’m sorry – “Google Play.” Even though nothing says ‘take me seriously’ like renaming a store concept to a “play” concept, it does have a more easily navigable paradigm, easier payment system that works more of the time and has a ton – and this is either imperial OR metric – more apps from which to choose. Support for the Windows Phone is, indeed, growing, but at this point can’t hold a candle to the number of Android apps out there and part of that is the next point.
I can develop for my phone should I choose, and I can do it for free. As a .Net developer imagine my glee when the SDKs were made available for the Windows Phones and were available as free add-ons to Visual Studio. Imagine my grumpiness when said SDK was updated and would no longer work on my “plain” Windows 8 system but would require not only a paid upgrade to Windows 8.1, but also a paid upgrade to Visual Studio 2012 and whichever level of “awesome overkill” was a level or so above my version. So, when I found the Android SDK, ADK and so on and plugged it into my Keplar installation of Eclipse and it *just worked* without any massive gyrations or outlays of cash, I was a very happy man. That said, my Java is more than a little rusty, but the point is that with minimal effort (other than learning the language), I can start designing the next “Killer App” for my Android phone.
Another reason was Google Everything. I know, there’s no such product, but there might as well be. The overarching products associated with Google and the integration into the phone OS are very compelling reasons. My calendars now all sync. My emails now come in without third-party applications. I can, should I choose to accept the mission, hop onto Google Hangouts. The main thing, however, was the calendar. Since I’ve got it integrated with my Outlook installation at home, kludged into my Lotus Notes(!) installation at work, on both my tablet and now my phone, this makes it quite homogenous and reduces frustration levels a lot…in addition to reducing the number of “Oops!” moments as a result of a non-synced appointment being missed.
Which is a Better Phone?
There is no question in my mind that the Samsung S4 is a better phone than the HTC 8X, if only because of the SIM card debacle and the random resets.
Summary, OR, Which Do I Like Better?
To conclude this rather lengthy missive, I will summarize as best I can without being overly repetitive. I really like the S4 a lot. I haven’t used it long enough to use the “Love” word (work with me…), but it’s growing on me. It’s funny – my wife is watching the growing pains and learning curve of the S4 and keeps saying, “If you don’t like it or it doesn’t work, take it back!” What she doesn’t have as part of the experiential frame of reference is the equivalent learning curve I went through with the 8X, as she hadn’t moved out here, yet. That’s a long story as to why, involving moving for work and that kind of thing, but the long and short of it is that she didn’t hear the same grumping and “aha” moments with the other phone. The learning curve with the S4 has more to do with unlearning how I’d been doing it for the past year and doing it the way it’s done on an Android-based phone rather than “this thing sucks, wtf!” kind of problems. Another big difference is that when I was having problems on the 8X, it was new enough that there were very few people who had any experience with it while the support on S4 has been superlative and “problems” have turned out to be less significant and more easily “fixed” with the S4 partly because the problems themselves are less significant (see SIM slot…) and partly because the fixes don’t involve OS-level tweaks, for the most part, which makes things much easier.
Honestly, I like Android better. I’ll stick with Android. The level of robustness is just, well, robust, and odds are good that if there’s something I want to do, there’s either an app for that, which wasn’t the case, often enough, with the Windows Phone.
March 22, 2014
As someone who has designed some excellent as well as absolutely ludicrous user interfaces, I’ve come to appreciate good design sense and good designers. What I have also come to appreciate is the ability to for a user to have a predictable interface. That’s not something FB has been very good about. The other thing is — a release schedule would be nice. These "under the cover of dark" releases are what are most irritating to me. There are no changelogs. There’s no obvious, at least to me, life-cycle involved, because I’m pretty sure beta testers would flag things like, "I can’t find my mom’s posts through all the ‘sponsored links’ crap that fills my feed that oscillates back and forth between ‘Most Recent’ and ‘Top Stories’ seemingly at random."
The problem with such a paradigm (and I’m all for keeping designers in jobs) is that there doesn’t seem to be either a sensible amount of User Experience study going on OR any sort of appreciation (or discernible *caring*) for what users want.
Here’s the thing…when a program changes its UI, people grouse about new looks and not being able to find things for a while, but get over it, as evidenced by just about every release of MSOffice. With FB, the user doesn’t have time to get finished grumbling about the most recent change that makes it so they can’t find their basic feeds in the newest rendition of the news feed before we’re saddled with another, different change that either puts the most recent change *back*, so we’re no longer looking for it, there, or in a new place now that we’ve just figured out where the last new one was.
I know that there are all sort of new ways to configure your UI for FB, but here’s the other thing — is it truly acceptable to expect the casual or neophyte user (thinking of the average grandma, here) to have to dive into multiple layers of "I want this" vs. "Hide This" while trying to figure out what the 5 new icons at the top of every post mean (and what grandma is going to want to deal with Post Info" that you can trigger…other than learning bad HTML, from the looks of the code display) in addition to the 6 menu options from the new(ish) drop-down menu that has started appearing. While making it "more configurable," you’re also taking it beyond what people want to do when they’re looking to see if mom’s having fun with the grandkids or if Tippy from school passed her boards.
To me, what Facebook is doing is exactly what makes us revile the Star Wars special editions…George just couldn’t stop tinkering to a point where people now loathe what they loved throughout their childhoods. Congrats, FB, you’re the new George Lucas.
November 10, 2013
Richie Incognito is a dick. Jonathan Martin is a sissy. These are the descriptions we’ve been force-fed over the past few days by the mass media. If you haven’t heard, then not only are you lucky as it’s not the most pleasant thing to have happened but you’re also a little behind in the story. Incognito and Martin are, or perhaps at this point, were teammates on the Miami Dolphins pro football team. They were both offensive linemen – in more ways than one, really – and were cut from much different cloths.
Everything came to a head over the weekend of the 2nd/3rd of November and seemed to be a clear-cut case of over-zealous hazing. Over the course of the last 5 days, it’s been shown that there is very little clear cut about this case. Richie Incognito, while having the coolest name in football, also has a bit of a raw edge to him that makes the kind of boorish, abusive behavior depicted almost expected. Jonathan Martin is a rookie on the team and has been seen as having thin skin for having left the team, last Sunday, to distance himself from the situation. Here’s the thing – those are two oversimplified looks at these two gentlem…er…guys. Something very important has been overlooked, at least from what I’ve heard over the past week, and it goes beyond football, beyond the rookie/veteran relationship and beyond the confines of the sports world as a whole. This is about humans being.
First, I know sports. I know the machismo. I’ve played, coached and parented. I know that you just “take it like a man” and if something is pushing you past your limits, you “man up” and do something about it. I know that this is the pervasive attitude and belief system that rears its head, even in the ranks of pewee football. I know that coaches tell 6- and 7-year-olds to suck it up and be a man when said child gets a stinger or light sprain or, alarmingly more frequently, a concussion. I also know that inside the helmet, be it football, hockey or baseball (batting), there’s sniffling, lip-biting and a kid doing everything in his or her power to not show the coach that it hurts to the point of making them cry. I’ve been that kid. I’ve coached a lot of those kids. I’ve watched, helplessly, as it was my kid. The bottom line for me has always been this: it takes more guts to take yourself out of a dangerous situation than it does to stay in it and that’s not always because you’re out of the immediate situation but more because you have to deal with it from your coach at teammates thereafter.
One thing that has come up was that Jonathan Martin was somehow weak or soft for having removed himself from the situation by quitting on the team. It’s pretty easy for us all to pass judgment, isn’t it? It’s not us. It’s our perception of one man, whom we don’t know, fitting into a schema that isn’t necessarily how it is, but how it’s shown and sold to us. What we don’t have is any knowledge into what was going through Martin’s head. We don’t know if he was along for the ride and “taking it like a man,” and generally not bothered by everything up to that certain point, that tipping point, the breaking, the snapping point. You know, that point where it’s all fun and games until it really hurts or really crosses a line – a line we may not have even known was there – and changes everything.
Here, my point is this: Incognito and Martin were, according to teammates, thick as thieves for the vast majority of the season, thus far. Everyone making Incognito out as a bad guy seems shocked by this and everyone portraying Martin as a helpless victim can’t seem to believe it. It happens. Move on – just because the actors in the play weren’t precisely who you thought they were doesn’t have to change what’s happening. The bottom line is that Richie may be guilty of taking what says were “orders” to toughen Jonathan up a bit too far. How much too far? Enough that Martin completely snapped which, by all accounts, is out of his character. What was his character, though, is taking the high road and removing himself from the situation rather than “punch the bully in the nose,” as most have suggested he should have done.
My question remains, though – when did verbal and sometimes physical abuse become OK? Kids teasing kids and trash talking to each other on the field has been around since the little round ball rolled from one kid to another. What I’ve seen over the few decades of my life indicate it’s getting worse and, in my opinion, what’s worse is that it’s becoming accepted and acceptable. It’s OK to tell someone that you’re going to “shit down your throat?” Really? It’s not ok, then, by the same token, to say, “Whatever” and walk away? In sports, does that mean that if you don’t punch the nose of the person calling you names or giving you heaps of grief, you’re not a man?
I also question those around. To me, if you’re seeing this going on and you don’t step up for the “underdog,” you’re a coward. You may think that you’re just witnessing good, character-building hazing. You may think that, somehow, by not stepping in or, at the very least, finding out what was really going on and assessing whether or not something needed to be done, you’re just maintaining the locker room culture and helping a rookie remember his place. What you’re really doing is being too cowardly to intervene on behalf of someone who is supposedly your teammate, the person you rely on to do his or her job to help you win the game. I know, you’ll come across to the teammate doing the hazing as a something less than the he-man he is because you couldn’t take it, apparently, either. That’s a valid opinion, I suppose, but it’s wrong. Here’s my take, and it’s really simple: it takes more “manliness” to show compassion and support for a person who is suffering than the person who’s doing the tearing down, the abuse, the “hazing.” You want to “man up?” Try being a human.
The one thing that’s not taken into consideration anywhere in the machismo of a locker room is this – not everyone is a he-man, yelly, hitty kind of guy. I’ve had words with my coaches, before, the day practices started, where I said, “I don’t respond to being screamed at. That may work for some of your other players, but if you want the best out of me, that’s not the way to go about it. Talk to me like a person and you’ll get the best player I can be.” I know – about as unmanly as one can get, right? May be, but it worked. Not only did it work, but I became the “go-between” for the coaches and other players who had more the disposition I had. We weren’t unmanly. I’ve played with broken fingers, ribs, toes and dignity (that’s what it’s called when you take a corner kick to the face and wobble for a minute or two). I also had the respect of my teammates who also understood where I was coming from. But I was vocal about it. I wasn’t shy about how I knew I was, even though it was opposite of how all these players you see on TV seem to be. Maybe that’s the difference.
I can’t see a player in the NFL going up to his coach and saying, “Coach, I’m a different cat and take a different approach to motivate and have a different perspective as to what ‘tough’ is,” let alone to teammates who have come up through the inner cities, have been sons of old-school coaches, and as such have a much dimmer view on being cerebral than even aforementioned old-school coaches.
I guess this is when my experience comes in. I mentioned I’ve coached lots of kids in this situation. I’ve coached kids who were only playing because their parents were living “the dream” vicariously through their son or daughter as though it was their ticket to the Stanley Cup even though the kid would much rather be at home, reading. I’ve had the talks with those kids, cajoled them and made them feel as though, even though they hated it with every fiber of their little beings, they would still do it because it did mean so much to their parents. I also made them promise to talk to their parents because I didn’t want them doing what they didn’t want to be doing and also made it very clear that I would be supportive of them and talk to their parents, as well. I also made it clear that we were down 6-3 and I really needed their help out there. I mentioned that I had coached lots of kids who were hiding that pain because they didn’t want to get yelled at by the coach. Being that coach, let me be clear that I wasn’t that coach. In fact, I did something that Jonathan Martin is getting called “soft” for doing – I removed myself from that situation. Tangential story time:
There was no hiding the pain. My left defenseman could barely skate or stand up straight – his back had finally seized. You see, he had gone trail riding with his dad the day before and rolled his quad. He was, genuinely, lucky to be standing there in front of me. So, I knew. I knew that it was only a matter of time before that became too much for him. Despite the pain, however, he was out there and contributing as much as possible. Unfortunately, because we were a player short, already, that meant he had played all 30 minutes, thus far, of the 45-minute game. I had already talked to the referee beforehand, mentioning that there was a very real possibility I was going to pull the player and would, therefore, need to either borrow a player or have them remove a player to keep the play “fair.” That word…fair. At any rate, since the refs were volunteers and not horribly invested in the whole “youth roller hockey movement,” I got a mumbled acknowledgement that filled me with more dread than anything else. So, when it finally happened, I barked to the ref for roughly two minutes to get his attention. Nothing. Well, nothing except a 5-on-3 breakaway that resulted in a goal against. The deciding goal against, not to make too fine a point.
So, now, I have a player completely hunched over, sobbing because he’s blaming himself, and a face-off. Well, unfortunately, I started to unravel a bit. First and foremost, I called the ref over to my player and while I’m explaining what needs to happen, I’m gently moving the hunched, sobbing defenseman to the bench. Now, at this time an…inquisitive…parent had been eavesdropping and at the suggestion of either “borrowing an opposing player” or having them pull on of theirs to even the teams up, there comes this bellowing rampage about “how would that be fair to the kids? What would that teach the kids? Why should they lend them a kid? How that be fair?” As you can tell, very much the mentality that give coaches hives and youth sports parents a bad name. “Why?” you ask, as these seem to be perfectly fair, reasonable questions. Why, indeed.
I will refrain from printing my tirade. I will simply summarize: Fair has nothing to do with it as the kid doubled over on the sideline thinking this is all his fault and feels not only pain, but guilt as he feels he has let down all of his teammates, friends. Fair has everything to do with as it shows the kids the importance of helping and that it’s more about the game than the game – meaning the culture of the game than the game currently being played and that it wasn’t about winning or losing, anymore, but about doing something for a friend, as they were all friends outside of the game, and having even teams. Why would you want to play a team when they’re at an obvious disadvantage when playing against an evenly matched and fully complemented team is much more satisfying, win or lose? Would you rather beat a team because your best was better than their best, that day, or because they were two men short and you beat an already disadvantaged team? Likewise, would you rather lose knowing you were able to compete and your best just wasn’t up to snuff or because you never had a chance from the get-go? Yes, that’s the summary. I got very red-faced and blustery…until I stopped. I looked at the kids I was coaching and they deserved better than that from me. They deserved who I was, not what I became in that moment. It’s something I’m still not proud of and given the chance would still apologize to the parent if I could readily identify him. It’s also why I’m not coaching, anymore. What I saw in me and I my potential for demonstrating that behavior in front of the kids I was coaching – that scared me enough to walk away, even though I really did love it. That is, however, the kind of coach you see on every field or rink – that fiery coach who yells and screams and throws headsets or benches.
To bring this back to the situation at hand, it also had to do with things that were out of my control. In the time since, I’ve been diagnosed and have received treatment for depression and it touched that part of my brain that was responsible for my reactions that day (and other days, really, outside of the rink). This is something that Brandon Marshall has been very outspoken about, in his life. His turbulent past has settled down greatly since he sought and has received – and is still receiving – treatment for his mental illness. What this has to do with the Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin situation is exactly this: we don’t know what’s going on in either of these two men’s brains. We also don’t know how any mental illness played into the tipping point. I mean, for my part, as a youth coach, I’d been heckled for years, by grandmothers no less, and it was just water off a duck’s back – until it wasn’t. I saw something in myself that scared me and that’s when I chose to walk away. There may have been something that Jonathan saw, that afternoon, or felt that made him do a complete 180 and walk away from the game he loved and the teammates he would ultimately be letting down. He may have felt that it was better to let them down by walking away than to risk the alternative and only Jonathan Martin knows what that alternative might have been. Am I saying that this is what happened? No. I am saying, however, that there are things going on that we don’t know and there are things inside each man’s mind that we will never know, for better or for worse, and that to say a man’s “soft” because he chose to walk away than risk a much worse outcome, well…that’s ignorant.
October 17, 2013
Fans of modern music tend to form strange and permanent connections with the musicians that perform the music they love. Another trend that I’ve encountered over the years is that modern music has a way of claiming lives of the musicians performing it. While there are some rock stars that have burned too brightly and burned out through addiction and overdose, there are some that are taken from us far too early by others’ actions. These are just as hard, if not a bit harder, to me. I remember, at the age of 13, learning about Cliff Burton’s death. I was, apparently, depressed for a couple of months. I don’t know if I had exactly the same reaction, depression-wise, seven years later, when I learned that a drunk driver took from this earth one of the most talented, underrated and creative guitarists I’d ever listened to – Criss Oliva. I probably wasn’t the same variety of ‘mess’ I was with Cliff, but this was still one of those moments where you just feel your heart goes away for a bit, sort of in hiding, sort of retreating.
I never got to meet Criss – my dad did! – but, again, there’s that feeling of connectedness when I listen to a song like “Silk and Steel” or “If I Go Away” where it may not be the most technically amazing playing I’ve ever heard, but I can’t help but get drawn in by the soul and energy and love that were poured into each note. That said, there are plenty of instances where Criss’ playing IS the most technically amazing playing I’ve ever heard. It’s that connectedness that so many fans feel with their favorite bands. It’s why there are legions of Sava-fans out there who felt the loss so deeply. Again, I don’t remember being hit quite as hard as when Cliff died, maybe more as a factor of being 20 rather than 13, but that said, I also feel more sadness, now, when I think about Criss than when I think of Cliff. I remember being exceedingly excited about “Handful of Rain” being released because I wanted to hear a fitting tribute. It didn’t disappoint – it was rushed, imperfect and completely heartfelt. I’ve always been so grateful to Alex Skolnik for stepping in and helping make that record happen.
I have two sons who both tend to enjoy metal, even if it’s not their mainstay genre (though, it kind of is. \m/ ), but have both been raised with an appreciation for Criss and his playing. That’s what we’re left with, though – Criss’ music and emotion and energy he put behind every riff, every pinch harmonic squeal. Twenty years ago, today, the metal world lost an amazing guitarist and person. Rest in peace, Criss, and know how much you gave to the world.